Why won’t AT&T help me with my medical bills?


After an accident at an AT&T store, Jane Smith-Stage turns to me for help with her medical bills But what can be done?

Question: I’m writing in hopes that you can help me with a challenge I’m having with AT&T. Last August, I was in an AT&T retail store in Smyrna, Tenn., to purchase an iPhone. When I had selected my phone, the sales associate suggested that we sit while she went over the information. I slipped and fell while climbing onto the stool.

After leaving the store, we immediately went to an emergency room where I learned that I had fractured my left wrist. I went to the Vanderbilt Orthopedic Clinic, where my arm was cast.

X-rays taken a few weeks later indicated that the break was not healing properly and surgery would be required to place a plate and screws in my wrist. Following my surgery, I started physical and occupational therapy.

As a result of the surgery, I developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) which resulted in additional therapy, doctor visits and medication. I was released from the doctor and therapy in early November, however, there is a high probability that I will have some degree of continuing problems from the CRPS.

At this point, my direct expenses related to the injury are in excess of $25,000, which I can’t pay. I’m now receiving demand letters from a collection agency.

The store manager, as well as others at AT&T corporate, directed me to Sedgwick CMS, AT&T’s third-party claims administrator, regarding assistance with my medical expenses. My claim has been denied.

What I want and need is for AT&T to do the right thing for a long-time customer, and that is to help me with my medical bills. — Jane Smith-Stage, Nolensville, Tenn.

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your medical problems. AT&T should ensure that its stores have safe furniture in them, of course. But there’s no clear culprit here in this story — and unfortunately, no clear resolution.

AT&T does bear some responsibility for having a stool in one of its stores that caused your fall. Typically, a company would carry liability insurance, to which a claim like this would be sent. In your case, AT&T referred your claim to its insurance company, which determined it was not liable. I’ll have details in a moment.

But there’s also the issue of personal responsibility. I’m not just talking about looking behind you before you sit down, which goes without saying. Why didn’t you have medical insurance that would have covered such an event?

It turns out you tried to buy insurance but were denied because of a previous, unrelated medical condition. Not to get too political — after all, this is a consumer advocacy column — but something is wrong with the medical care system when you can’t get coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.

The recent healthcare reforms were too late to cover this incident, leaving you with a $25,000 bill. I can’t make that bill go away, but you might try contacting a medical advocate like Health Assist Tennessee, which could explain your options and guide you through the process of repaying your bill without being harassed by collectors.

I contacted AT&T on your behalf repeatedly. The result was less than ideal. You received a letter from the company, saying that your claim should be sent to the chair’s manufacturer, Dauphin North America. I would be happy to contact the manufacturer on your behalf if, and when, it rejects your claim. Or you could take this matter to small claims court. Coincidentally, the claims limit is $25,000, so you could conceivably recover everything.

But for now, at least, AT&T is a dead end. I wish I had better news.

Should AT&T cover Jane Smith-Stage's medical bills?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • AH

    i’m undecided about this one. back in about 1991 i walked into a grocery store one evening after it had been raining, and there were no floor mats in front of the door. as soon as my wet shoes hit the the slick floor inside the store, my feet went out from under me and i landed hard on my rear, and on my left hand and elbow, which i’d put out behind me. a checker and an assistant manager immediately came rushing up to me to see if i was alright and help me up again. at that point, i was mostly just embarrassed for having fallen, so i assured them i was fine, and went on my way.
    unfortunately, by the next day, my left elbow was hurting terribly, and when the pain continued, i went to a doctor to get an x-ray to find out whether i’d cracked or broken my elbow. it turned out i’d only jammed it badly, but i still had the bill from the doctor, so i called the store and spoke to a manager. all i wanted was reimbursement for my medical bills, and since two employees had seen me fall, they gave me the name and address of the department in their corporate office to file a claim. i sent copies of the medical bills, and they promptly sent me a check.
    now, maybe they were just glad that i didn’t want to claim negligence (they should have had floor mats, or at the very least, “wet floor” signs, in front of the door), but they were courteous and prompt in reimbursing me.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Yup, I’m classist. That’s the correct term, according to the internet.

    ~~~Now you know!~~~

    FYI: I just have a hard time dealing with people who think they are entitled to stuff. Take a look at the Dish case here a few days ago. “We’re on a budget so we can’t afford this…but we want it anyway.” Guys, you can live without TV. I did, for two years when I was flat-butt broke. SRSLY.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’m wondering how much of that $25K was trumped up in the hopes of a big slip and fall case.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    another “IT’S NOT MY FAULT” whinge.
    Does anyone in USA take responsibility for their own silly actions.
    Are you disabled ? Can’t you even sit on a stool ?

  • LeeAnneClark

    I actually don’t think you are a classist. I think you just expressed your irritation over this woman’s apparent money-grab inelegantly, delving into an area that you don’t usually delve into. Thus my response that I usually enjoy your snark, but not this time.

    And we all know how you feel about people who play the “oh poor me” card when asking for help with their travel issues. Personally I don’t think the OP was playing the “oh I’m poor” card here, so much as the “I’m so lucky I had my bout of clumsiness while I happened to be in a store of a company with deep pockets” card! And on that second “card”, I happen to agree with you.

    If she’d had her clumsy spell after she left the store, she’d be outta luck. But because she did it inside the store, she thinks they should pay for it. I disagree with that.

    However, what I DO believe is that she never should have been denied insurance coverage due to a pre-existing condition in the first place, so this issue never would have come up. I’m very grateful that the ACA now protects us all from that.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I hear ya. The difference is, you seem to think an iPhone is the coolest (and most expensive) option. As others have pointed out, they can be had for very cheap. So your point was kinda lost in that.

    I just find the whole thought process behind denigrating poor people to be distasteful, and I see it far too often among a certain…um…set of people with a particular political viewpoint.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Oh brother. Why would a store have any liability in a case like this? The store surely has no responsibility here. That’s why people buy insurance, to protect them if they injure themselves.

  • The Original Joe S

    I iterate: the point is that STUFF IN GENERAL is less expensive there because of less litigation and less regulation, among other factors.

    Have a sparkling day!

  • Raven_Altosk

    I also believe that “pre-exisiting conditions” should never keep someone from getting health insurance. :)

  • Raven_Altosk

    “Never trust a woman with a hyphenated last name.” –My Father

  • The Original Joe S

    Creo que “Piso Mojado” es un pueblo en Baja California….

  • JewelEyed

    I wouldn’t be much use, and you can’t move a whole facility and all its staff. And there are no tornadoes here either. You could always move to a blue state like ours, maybe you’d get a taste of what I’m talking about. :)

  • sirwired

    You didn’t say “stuff” in your original post; you specifically said “Ford Pickup Trucks in SE Asia” were 1/3 less expensive there. Did you simply completely make that up?

    I used the F-series as an example for the simple reason that it’s the only Ford pickup sold in the US; what else could you possibly have been referring to?

  • The Original Joe S

    Don’t you read / comprehend English? Were you born fixated, or did you attend Obtuse University to get your PhD in Puerile Stubbornness?

    I’ve already told you what the point of the exercise is, and you keep fixating on your Found On Road Dead pieces of junque. I’ve told you that I’m not interested in that junque [manufactured in the USA in a company by over-paid dope-using alcoholics where quality is the pits], and you insist in arguing a non-issue. The point, ONCE AGAIN, is that stuff is cheaper there because of less litigation and less onerous regulations.

    Consequently, as far as concerns this issue, you are DISMISSED!

    Have a wonderful day, and may the Lord give His blessings to you.

  • Lindabator

    But THEY would have been at fault for the lack of floor mats, or cleaning up the area, or putting out at the very least warning signs. Had you tripped over your own feet, they would not be.

  • Bill___A

    Plants in North America get around the import duty. Still, we have lots of imports.

  • sirwired

    Wow. That’s impressive. You made a concise statement that was completely, totally, demonstrably false in every way. But somehow it’s MY fault that I missed your “point”, which is some vague reference to “stuff”. (If your first post HAD been instead, some general statement about how stuff often costs less abroad than it does at home due to regulatory and tax burdens, I wouldn’t even have bothered to reply, as it’s likely quite true.)

    I wasn’t correcting your grammar or spelling here… It’s as if I made a post saying “Whole wheat bread eaters live 5x as long as white bread eaters.” and when called out on it (because it’s completely made up), say that my “point” was that whole wheat is good for you and you should simply ignore the factoid I pulled out of thin air.

  • emanon256

    That sucks. Sorry. Hopefully you can get coverage now.

  • emanon256

    That really stinks. I’m sorry. I am glad for the ACA law.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Universal Healthcare recipients don’t have the medical bill, nor the notion of pre-existing condition. Happy to know pre-existing condition end Jan 1st this year.

  • mythsayer

    I had the surgery 10 years ago and needed insurance I think 8 years ago bc I’d lost mine when I got laid off (they laid me off at 88 days so I never qualified for their insurance, this no COBRA). I just went without (not happily) until I found a job. It’s dumb… I was way way healthier after losing 140 pounds… It’s just a ruse to deny people.

    Anyway, I have tricare now so as long as I can convince my husband to stay in, I’m fine. Actually though, I thank god for the ACA bc I was just diagnosed with lupus. The gastric bypass was so long ago that I don’t think they’d care about that… But lupus… Yeah, don’t think they’d happily and voluntarily take me on. That’s why I’m for universal healthcare… You just never know when you’re going to come down with something bad.

  • PsyGuy

    While I admire Chris’s help and assistance, really the poster needs to find a lawyer.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No, honestly it isn’t Suggesting someone sit down does not negligent unless the employee had reason to know or believe that the chair was deficient or that sitting on the chair was likely to lead to an injury.

  • JenniferFinger

    If there was something wrong with the stool or the floor or something else in the store that caused the fall, then AT&T should be responsible for the LW’s bills. But there’s nothing published here that indicates exactly what caused the fall-only that the LW was asked to sit on a stool and fell. Based on what’s actually in the column, there are no indications that anything other than the LW not being careful caused her to fall.

  • Helio

    Try living in Brazil…

  • dave3029

    Not too long after the infamous McDonald’s coffee case (and there is a LOT most people don’t know about that case – – see the documentary “Hot Coffee”, it will really open up your eyes), I was in a McDonald’s restroom with the paper towel “pull down” rolls. When I pulled down, the entire device came off the wall and hit my left foot. It hurt so bad, I thought it was broken. My first thought was NOT “I’d better call my lawyer and sue”, it was “I better get out of here before they make me pay for this.” For too many people in this country, the lines between where your responsibility ends for your actions and where corporate responsibility begins have become too blurred – – or wiped out completely.

    My personal opinion on this? If an employee had pulled the stool out from under her, or the stool was situated in some way to be less than stable, then possibly the store or employee would be liable. But just getting onto a stool by yourself, unassisted, and you slip and fall? That’s on you. There is no corporate responsibility for being a klutz.

  • pauletteb

    But there are many smart phones out there that are far less expensive than an iPhone. I think that’s what Raven’s saying.

  • Mike Z

    I know it is an old post, but poor people do not need smartphones. a basic telephone works just fine and is 1/3 the cost. I think even the cheapest plans from the major carriers like Verizon or AT&T these days would cost something like $80-$100 when you factor in the data plan. (lower if it is a second line, though if you are poor, how do you have so many smart phones) So even a $1 iPhone still costs several thousand dollars over the course of the contract.

    Also, the hospital may have billed her $25,000 but the actual amount the health insurance company would pay on these claims is far less. I’d bet if she negotiated with the hospital and other providers that the bills would drop significantly. Additionally, there are people who get plans even when they had pre existing conditions. the insurance covers things not related to the pre existing condition. (it’s called insurance for a reason, to mitigate an unknown potential risk)

  • Julie Zimmer

    I also fell at an ATT store, the same stool is the culprit, and I also broke my wrist. The incident happened on July 3, 2014 in Fresno, CA. . I have been told the exact same thing, they are not liable, but doesnt there seem to be a pattern here? Surely if it has happened to two, it has happened to more. How can they refuse to pay my medical bills? I only have $1600 ER medical bill costs that are unpaid because my medical coverage started on July 7, 2014.